What happens when you aggregate rankings into a Business School Tier list?

As any prospective candidate who has visited an MBA admissions forum can tell you, business school rankings are a big deal. Candidates and admissions offices place a tremendous amount of weight – often too much – on the position of their school in the annual rankings released by outlets like US News and World Report and the Financial Times.

However, no business school ranking system is capable of capturing every available metric for each school on their list; instead, every publisher uses its own set of criteria in analyzing programs. For example, US News mainly utilizes feedback from school deans and corporate recruiters in addition to student selectivity metrics, while the Financial Times heavily weighs in on information from alumni surveys. 

At RelishCareers, we wondered what aggregating the newest rankings from multiple sources would reveal about where business schools rank when incorporating all available criteria. Specifically, can we identify ranked “tiers” of school by looking at average rankings across different systems and grouping similarly-ranked schools together?

It turns out that we can, and the tiers that arise out of this approach are surprisingly cleanly delineated.

In order to tackle this question, we took the average of the rankings from the past three years for four different sources: US News, Forbes, The Economist, and The Financial Times. Using these averages, we then proceeded to take 115 U.S. Business schools and split them into 13 tiers. 

You may be wondering how we utilized our calculated numbers to split schools into clusters. As shown below, the cut-offs between tiers was decided by a large jump between consecutive average rankings. For example, there is a difference of 3.7 rankings between University of California–Los Angeles (Anderson) and Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) —the next highest average ranking.

As with all business school rankings, this approach is likely to generate some controversy, particularly among schools that are not as highly rated as they are typically perceived to be. However, we feel strongly that there is value in aggregating rankings in this way in order to incorporate as many metrics as possible into the rankings discussion. In addition, this tier system is useful in analyzing how rankings correlate with other measurements of business school performance, such as the compensation data we gather through our RelishCareers platform. Over the coming weeks, we will be using these tiers to provide additional insight into business school recruiting, and looking at how closely career outcomes match the ranking systems that schools and students rely upon so heavily.

So without further ado, here are our inaugural RelishCareers Aggregated Ranking Tiers:

Tier 1 

With averages of 2.38, 2.78, 2.88, and 3.38, respectively, our method indicates that Stanford Business School, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard Business School are consistent favorites for the top contender across the board.

Stanford University
University of Chicago (Booth)
University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
Harvard University

The rest of the 111 schools were then placed into tiers 2-13, with all tiers containing schools with average rankings within a few points of each other. There is a difference of 1 to 13 rankings between the lowest- and highest-ranked schools in each tier, with this difference increasing with lower tiers.

Tier 2

Northwestern University (Kellogg)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)
Columbia University
University of California–Berkeley (Haas)

Tier 3 

Dartmouth College (Tuck)
Yale University
Duke University (Fuqua)
University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (Ross)
University of Virginia (Darden)
New York University (Stern)
Cornell University (Johnson)
University of California–Los Angeles (Anderson)

Tier 4

Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)
University of Southern California (Marshall)
University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler)
University of Washington (Foster)
University of Texas–Austin (McCombs)
Indiana University (Kelley)

Tier 5

Georgetown University (McDonough)
Emory University (Goizueta)
Vanderbilt University (Owen)
University of Florida (Warrington)
Rice University (Jones)
Georgia Institute of Technology (Scheller)
Washington University in St. Louis (Olin)

Tier 6

University of Notre Dame (Mendoza)
Pennsylvania State University (Smeal)
Arizona State University-Tempe (Carey)
University of Minnesota–Twin Cities (Carlson)
Michigan State University (Broad)
Brigham Young University (Marriott)
Ohio State University (Fisher)

Because of data collection issues that arose from the pandemic, certain top ranking schools opted to not participate and were not included in a few of the recent rankings published by certain sources like the Financial Times. While we recognize that this may lead to inaccuracies within our rankings, we believe that the inclusion of rankings from previous years will mitigate some of this imprecision. 

Tier 7

University of Rochester (Simon)
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Texas A&M University–College Station (Mays)
University of Georgia (Terry)
Southern Methodist University (Cox)
University of Pittsburgh (Katz)
University of California–Irvine (Merage)
University of Utah (Eccles)
University of Maryland–College Park (Smith)
Boston University (Questrom)
University of Texas–Dallas
Boston College (Carroll)

While aggregated numbers do not remove all bias that was present when these individual sources scored these schools, solely looking at numbers definitely removed any of our preconceived notions about where business schools fall. We hope this list provides you with some insight into business schools rankings and invite you to take a look at the rest of the tiers!

Tier 8

University of Alabama (Manderson)
Hult International Business School
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (Gies)
University of California–Davis
University of Tennessee–Knoxville (Haslam)
Iowa State University (Ivy)
Rollins College
George Washington University
Babson College (Olin)
Northeastern University
Purdue University–West Lafayette (Krannert)
University of Arizona (Eller)
Texas Christian University (Neeley)

Tier 9

North Carolina State University (Poole)
Baylor University (Hankamer)
College of William and Mary
University at Buffalo–SUNY
Rutgers University
University of Massachusetts-Amherst (Isenberg)
University of Missouri (Trulaske)
CUNY Bernard M. Baruch College (Zicklin)
University of South Carolina (Moore)
University of Connecticut
University of Miami
Auburn University (Harbert)
Howard University
Fordham University (Gabelli)

Tier 10

University of Colorado–Boulder (Leeds)
Louisiana State University
Pepperdine University (Graziadio)
Tulane University (Freeman)
University of San Diego
Case Western Reserve University (Weatherhead)
Willamette University
Saint Louis University (Chaifetz)
Stevens Institute of Technology
Temple University (Fox)
University of Oklahoma (Price)
Chapman University (Argyros)

Tier 11

Syracuse University (Whitman)
Binghamton University
University of Arkansas (Walton)
University of San Francisco
San Diego State University (Fowler)
Drexel University (LeBow)
Rochester Institute of Technology (Saunders)
University of Oregon (Lundquist)
American University (Kogod)
Florida State University
University of Colorado–Denver
University of Houston (Bauer)

Tier 12

University of California–Riverside
Bentley University
Kansas State University
Missouri State University
College of Charleston
University of Cincinnati (Lindner)
Pace University
University of Albany–SUNY
Louisiana Tech University

Tier 13

Brandeis University
Duquesne University (Palumbo-Donahue)
Florida International University
Oregon State University
Portland State University
Quinnipiac University
Southern Illinois University–Carbondale
University of South Florida (Muma)
West Virginia University (Chambers)

Are you interested in learning more about how we can utilize these tiers to draw insights on business schools? Continue checking out the RelishCareers Blog for more updates.  Candidates can also sign up for an account through RelishCareers and registrants will be informed of all upcoming blog posts through email. 

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